The Third Victim is an extraordinary book, clearly enhanced by a mammoth amount of research filtered through a complex, constantly twisting plot and powered by very well developed characters. But readers should know that The Third Victim starts with a school shooting. The author’s notes reveal that Lisa Gardner had proposed this book to her editors in 1998, before the Columbine slayings.
The small quiet town of Bakersville, Oregon, erupts with the report of shootings and deaths at the elementary school. Officer Rainie Conner and her rookie partner are fifteen minutes from the site. While responding, Sheriff Shep O’Grady, radios her and asks her to be the primary. Shep and Rainie are close friends and although Rainie had worked for him for 8 years, she has little real crime experience and none in school shootings.
Shep’s conflict is personal as his two children attend this school. When Rainie arrives on the scene she finally finds the Sheriff in a classroom in a standoff with an armed student. Sadly the student is Shep’s thirteen-year-old son Danny.
The State Crime Homicide Unit, understanding that Bakersville does not even have a trained homicide investigator, selects its team and puts them on the road. Leading the force is Detective Abe Sanders, an over-achiever who is well trained with an excellent record, but a trifle unyielding.
Supervisory Special Agent Pierce Quincy of the FBI has an ex-wife, a college age daughter and another daughter whom he can no longer reach. Constantly alone, he fills his time teaching homicide investigation classes and killer profiling. As a member of the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI he is concerned whether or not school shootings are a genuine trend or a statistical anomaly. What drives the children to kill and can it be prevented?
So Quincy appears in Bakersville as well. His investigatory expertise is quickly brought into play as the recriminations begin. Daniel’s attorney is screaming abuse of Danny’s civil rights by untrained investigators, and of course, the town chooses sides…
Lurking near-by and introduced early is an unidentified man who has lived his entire life with the sole motivation of revenge. But upon whom and why?
Lisa Gardner’s writing skills are beautifully showcased in this novel. Deftly, she has crafted multi-dimensional characters whose responses to this type of tragedy certainly ring true. Their emotions are well expressed in crisp, pertinent dialogue and the tensions are sustained at many different levels with seemingly effortless ease. Scenes shift, points of view shift, the pace varies; all to perfection.
There is an immediate chemistry between Quincy and Rainie that is challenged by underlying unforeseen problems. Is there a HEA in this book? The reader should have some surprises left.
Judging from the excerpt at the end of the novel, there is a sequel coming soon. In awarding The Third Victim five stars, I do so, uncertain that I will ever read it again. There are some books so powerful that the first time is enough.